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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 64

Senator RYAN (5:51 PM) —I, like Senator Mason, woke up on Saturday morning, but I did not actually think we had seen the end of capitalism. I was somewhat more optimistic. I just thought that we had thrown out 25 years of this nation’s policy direction. But then I realised: no, it was only an article by the Prime Minister in the Monthly. I realised what this was. Just like it has been with all the state governments—to which Senator Arbib, amongst others, is most closely associated—the government needed someone to blame. It starts off with the state governments blaming their predecessors or the state governments blaming the Commonwealth. But this federal government could not do that. It had to find another purpose. So for the first six months of Labor being in office, we had the Treasurer acting as Major Nelson and, as I have said before, talking and dreaming about his genie. He realised after six months that the problem was that the genie was just a dream. Inflation was not the problem. As the former Treasurer and the Leader of the Opposition had outlined, we had much bigger problems on the horizon. Six months after everyone else realised it was going to be an issue, the Labor government woke up and realised that there was a global financial crisis. That is okay. Governments deal with challenges.

On this side of the chamber, we came to office with a huge deficit. We had an Asian financial crisis, a collapse in the currency and a run on our neighbours’ currencies. We did not run around and do what this government is doing. For the first time ever, we have had a government running around talking down confidence. It ran around telling everyone how miserable their lives were going to be for the next two years. When we were in government, we told people the truth: ‘This is a very difficult period, but the government will help you through it. The government will take a long-term view and not a short-term politically expedient view.’ But just like its state counterparts, this Labor government is a leopard that does not change its spots. It simply says something so often that it makes it true. There are now three forms of truth in Australia: there is the truth, there is something that is not the truth, and then there is a Ruddism. A Ruddism is when you say something so often or when you make this action with your hands to make a point in front of a TV camera so often that everyone becomes so ‘on message’, due the great work of people like Senator Arbib, that you simply make it true.

Senator Brandis —It is an aspiration.

Senator RYAN —It is an aspirational truth, Senator Brandis. You are quite right. In the article in the Monthly, the government has embarked on a new sort of cult. I remember the movie Dead Poets Society. It was quite popular when I was young. This government has become the ‘Dead Economist Society’, with the heart paddles on Keynes in an effort to get him going again after the stagflation of the seventies, and there is also an attempt to raise the ghost of the late Hayek. The government is obsessed with battles of the past. But the problem we have now is that earning credibility in Fitzroy and attacking so-called neoliberalism is not a solution to any of the issues that we now face.

As has been outlined by previous speakers in the matter of public importance debate, the Prime Minister has claimed to be a Christian Democrat. He has claimed to be an economic conservative. He is now claiming to be a Social Democrat. If this were Germany, he would be a government of national unity on his own. If we compare what has happened over the last 20 years in places like Germany or western Europe, which have had those sorts of governments, with what has happened in Australia in that time, the answer is very clear: liberalism has succeeded in Australia. The facts speak for themselves. Where would you have rather been if you were a young person leaving school or university over the past 20 years? What country would you have rather been in to buy a house or start a business? No-one will answer Germany. No-one will answer France. They will say Australia, because it is the land of opportunity, and its economically liberal policies have provided people with the opportunity to make a start in life.

The Ruddism that the government is trying to put forward is that Liberals do not believe in the state. That is simply not true. We put the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority in place, as has already been outlined. The very reason our banking system is the most robust in the world is that we put in place the independence of the Reserve Bank over the opposition and threatened constitutional challenges of the Labor Party. We reformed the Trade Practices Act. We put in place the very measures that ensured the strength of Australia today. The key issue is not that the Liberals oppose regulation; we actually believe it is appropriate. The attack on neoliberalism by the Prime Minister is nothing more than a power grab by people who have been waiting 34 years to reregulate the economy, to reregulate people’s lives and to tell them what they can buy, when they can buy it, when they can go out, where they can drive and what they can do. That is exactly what this attack is; it is nothing more than a long-suppressed urge to control the lives of others—unlike what the economically liberal approach of the last 25 years has done.

I was watching Lateline last night and the person being interviewed said:

We have a floating exchange rate. The thing saving us through the Asian crisis was that we went down to 48c. When the terms of trade boom came to protect us from inflation it went up to 96. In less well times it went down to 64 or 65—in other words, it is completely flexible. The same with wages. We had a flexible labour market returning 4.5 per cent for wages for the last 15 years. That is the point. We are not opposed to that.

That was the former Prime Minister Paul Keating, whom I am not often prone to quoting in this place. We are not going to do what the Labor Party did in opposition. We are not going to run away from our values, which put this country in very good stead and which left the current government with the strongest economy and the strongest budget position in the Western world. In 1996 those opposite ran away, and even today they are running away, from some of the few good things that the previous Labor government did.

What is neoliberalism? I was trying to think what it might be. Is it surplus budgets? It seems to be, because they are no longer present. I have learnt that the definition of ‘balance over the cycle’ is that Labor run deficits and we pay back the debt. Is it flexible labour markets? Yes, it is. Is it free trade? I like the fact that Australian workers do not have to pay in real terms three times as much for their shirts as they used to pay, because we no longer have tariffs. They can buy a car made in Japan or Europe—something that is not restricted to the wealthy in our society. They are not taxed or penalised for making a choice about where they want to spend their money.

What have the last 25 years delivered? They have delivered record economic growth and unprecedented prosperity for all of Australia. Until Saturday, that was the view of both sides of politics. We argued over many of the differences that we had, but we did not try and misrepresent what had happened. The Labor Party stands condemned for the article written by the Prime Minister. It stands condemned for trying to misrepresent what has been achieved in this country over the last 25 years, through the sacrifices of many.